Bible study on Matthew 13:31-33,44-52
This study can be used by a small family/household group, or by an online group,
or – sometimes with a little adaptation – by an individual.
See our Guidelines for a weekly Bible study
Begin with an opening prayer
Lord God, we leave worldly thoughts behind,
and gather to seek your wisdom.
Teach us kingdom values, we pray,
so that we may grow in faith
this day and always.
Read the passage
Consider different ways to read the text. For example, hearing it in more than one version of the Bible.
In an online group, you could share parts between those present, or use/adapt this week’s Share the Word suggestion: Use the Jump to this week's menu on the right to go to Share the Word and scroll down to find the Gospel reading.
Explore and respond to the text
Start by reading the Bible notes below. You may want to read them more than once, or pause after each paragraph to reflect on what you have read.
How can Jesus’ disciples make sense of the kingdom of heaven? Chapter 13 is one of the major teaching blocks of Matthew’s Gospel, and in it Jesus uses parable after parable to help his followers begin to understand. This week’s reading offers five pictures that challenge hearers to see the details of ordinary life in a kingdom perspective.
The mustard seed (vv.31-32) is tiny and easy to miss. Even when someone does venture to plant it, it will take time to grow into a tree, big enough to be a home for birds – yet it is still there, growing at its own pace. Matthew may intend a comparison with Old Testament stories about trees, which often act as a metaphor for pride and power (Ezekiel 31:1-13, Israel’s enemy Assyria is a cedar tree that God caused to be cut down).
The yeast takes us into the world of baking. This woman is working with a huge amount of flour, and perhaps Matthew wants us to recall the feasts that characterise the kingdom of heaven (e.g. 14:18-21). The amount of yeast is tiny, and it disappears into the flour as it is kneaded, and the dough takes time to rise – yet the baker can be confident that she will have bread to share.
The parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl focus on the value of the kingdom of heaven and the cost of gaining it. The workman – perhaps a hired day-labourer – risks all he has to profit from his life-changing discovery. The parable of the merchant may depend on a comparison from less to greater. If a merchant, focused on profit, behaves like this, how much more should those who long for the kingdom commit to pursuing it.
The final parable suggests that the kingdom is a ‘catch-all’ net, where good and bad coexist – a reflection of the disciples’ lived experience, then as now. It points to a future time when the kingdom will come fully and evil will be wiped out.
Spend a few moments thinking about what stands out for you from the Bible reading. This idea may help.
The 2001 film Amélie is about a shy waitress in Paris who decides to change the lives of those around her for the better while dealing with her own loneliness. It begins when, startled by the news of the death of Princess Diana, Amélie drops a plastic perfume-stopper. It accidentally dislodges a wall tile and reveals an old metal box of childhood memorabilia and treasures, hidden by a boy who lived in her apartment decades earlier. Amélie resolves to track down the boy and return the box to him. She promises herself that if it makes him happy, she will devote her life to bringing happiness to others. The film is about all the discoveries she makes in the adventure of loving others and letting them love her. In her adventure she uncovers what those around her treasure. The film is perhaps a contemporary parable of the contagious love of the reign of God. Have you seen it? What did you make of it?
Questions for reflection
You may wish to use these questions and the picture to help you think about or discuss issues arising from this week’s Bible passage.
Click on the image to view a larger version
or use the Jump menu to go to This week's images.
For artist's details, see this issue's illustrators.
- How does it feel to be waiting and trusting?
- What everyday examples might you use to describe the kingdom of heaven?
- What is your part in making it a reality?
A simple activity
A poem and a parable
A reflection on hidden treasure and priceless pearls.
You will need: copies of the poem, The Bright Field by RS Thomas.
- Ask someone to read the poem. Ask someone else to read Matthew 21:44-45.
- Give people time to let the poem and the parables speak to them of God’s kingdom or reign.
These questions may help: How does waiting and trust come into this? What for you is the hidden treasure in the field or the pearl of great price? What price do you need, or would be willing, to pay?
- Invite everyone to share their thoughts with another person.
Use the Jump to this week's menu on the right to go to more activities in Explore and respond.
Adapt to your local context.
God, we thank you for teaching us the things that matter,
the things of true value.
We praise you that the treasures of your kingdom are hidden beneath the mundanity,
and sometimes the drama, of everyday life;
and that they are often there in small ways that,
if nurtured, grow in abundance.
Thank you for your pearls of wisdom and your seeds of faith.
Let your Kingdom grow among us.
Use the Jump to this week's menu on the right to find more prayers,
including up-to-date intercessions.
A prayer to end the Bible study
thank you for your reign breaking in, all around, for those with eyes to see.
May the light of your love be focused within us.
May we create space in our hearts to treasure it.
And may we be of service to your love, now and always.
Go with God 24/7
Encourage everyone to put their faith into action.
Try to plant little seeds of love among your family, friends and neighbours – small gestures or acts of kindness, or similar. Wait, trust and see what grows out of these actions of kindness.
Encourage everyone to explore their faith this week with the Thrive resource.